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SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 10)

It’s Day 10 of the Aki Basho and our leaderboard is beginning to thin out. At the very top, still unbeaten, are yokozuna Kakuryu and yokozuna Hakuho. One loss behind them are ozeki Goeido, ozeki Takayasu, and M13 Ryuden. 

Interestingly, both Hakuho and Kakuryu seemed to dodge bullets yesterday. Hakuho got wrapped up in a tense match against sekiwake Mitakeumi, who is quickly losing ground on his hopes to attain an ozeki promotion at the end of this basho. Mitakeumi unexpectedly got the better of the tachi-ai [initial charge] and grabbed a very dominant belt grip on the yokozuna. But that is quite analogous to grabbing a tiger by the tail, as no matter what Mitakeumi tried, Hakuho had an answer for. They wound up standing in the middle of the dohyo, leaning on each other, and each waiting for the other to make a move that could be exploited. After nearly a minute of this, Hakuho made an incredible fake-out by tapping his foot against Mitakeumi’s calf. The sekiwake interpreted this as the yokozuna going for a leg trip and made a counter-move . . . but the fact is that Hakuho never intended to go for that maneuver, so he was perfectly balanced and easily rolled Mitakeumi off the dohyo. It was such a brilliant misdirection, that I laughed out loud and immediately scrolled back the video to watch it again. When all was said and done, Mitakeumi knew he’d been played, and let out a frustrated howl on the way back to the dressing room. 

Kakuryu, on the other hand, faced M3 Endo, and while he won without too much fuss, he did find himself momentarily maneuvered into giving in to his greatest weakness—moving backward and pulling his opponent. Endo, may be having a terrible basho (he’s make-koshi [majority of losses] after losing yesterday’s bout), but he’s still a tricky, skilled sumo technician, and he made the right moves against the yokozuna—he just couldn’t capitalize on them. 

The third yokozuna, Kisenosato, managed to get back in a winning way by out-muscling ozeki Tochinoshin. It was a terrific power-sumo match, despite the fact that neither rikishi is at the top of his form this tournament. I have to admit that I thought Tochinoshin had the edge, but Kisenosato has an incredible ability to lower his center of gravity and resist being moved. And once that throw failed, Tochinoshin was off balance and fell prey to Kisenosato’s powerful grip. A great match that leaves Kisenosato just one win away from his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] that will save him from having to retire. Unfortunately, it also leaves Tochinoshin still needing three wins to get kachi-koshi and escape his kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] condition. 

Interestingly, ozeki Goeido is looking the strongest of all the contenders, much as it pains me to say so. He neatly handled komusubi Takakeisho, who has been giving trouble to most of othe the top-rankers all basho. Can it be that Goeido shook off his usual mental sluggishness in the early days of the tournament, and now really is focused going into Week 2? He’s certainly proven that he’s capable of that once in a blue moon, and if we’re in such a phase now he will surely be one of the yusho [tournament championship] contenders down to the wire. On the other hand, I’ve seen Goeido lose focus too many times to actually put any faith in him. 

Let’s have a look at some of today’s top matches.

M13 Ryuden (8–1) vs. M16 Ishiura (2–7)—Today’s matches opened with a biggie. Ryuden is having a great tournament and is on the leaderboard, only one loss behind in the yusho race. Meanwhile, Ishiura is having a terrible basho, ranked at the bottom of the banzuke [ranking sheet], and is only one loss away from make-koshi and a guaranteed demotion out of the top division. There’s A LOT at stake in this bout! (0:10)
M12 Takanoiwa (7–2) vs. M7 Tochiozan (3–6)—Not much to say about this match-up, but the bout is won by a kimarite [winning technique] you don’t see very often. (3:15)
M1 Kaisei (4–5) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (5–4)—Tochinoshin has another power-sumo match-up today against the big Brazilian, Kaisei. The ozeki needs to turn his luck around and quickly if he wants to hold on to his rank. (10:00)
Ozeki Goeido (8–1) vs. ozeki Takayasu (8–1)—The biggest match of the day, two ozeki squaring off, each one just a single loss behind the leaders. One of them will remain in the yusho hunt, the other will fall back to the pack. (10:55)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (7–2) vs. M3 Endo (1–8)—Kisenosato needs just one more win to get his kachi-koshi, which shouldn’t be a struggle for a yokozuna, but in this case is understandable. This will probably be his best chance for an easy win for the rest of the tournament, so he’d better take advantage of it. (12:25)
Sekiwake Ichinojo (3–6) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (9–0)—Hakuho usually has no trouble with the lumbering Ichinojo. But as I noted at the beginning of the tournament, Hakuho seems to have lost a little bit of his raw power in recent months, which could be a problem when facing a 500 lb. opponent. (14:00)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (9–0) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (6–3)—Mitakeumi had a very strong showing yesterday against a yokozuna, but came up short. It’s for certain he wants to make up for that today. In order to do that, he’s going to have to shake up Kakuryu and force him away from the straight ahead sumo he’s been doing all basho. (15:35)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 9)

Today begins Week 2 of the Aki Basho, and the leaderboard has quite suddenly become more manageable. Only two undefeated rikishi remain—yokozuna Kakuryu and yokozuna Hakuho—with four rikishi trailing at one loss apiece—ozeki Goeido, ozeki Takayasu, M9 Hokutofuji, and M13 Ryuden. Of course, there’s still A LOT of drama going on among those not on the leaderboard, too.

To begin with, yokozuna Kisenosato seems to have run into his “wall.” After starting 6–0, he’s lost his last two matches, and looked like he was a little short on both energy and power. After missing eight tournaments in a row, he promised to come back strong or, if he couldn’t, that he’d retire. Now, “strong” is a loosely defined term, but at bare minimum it’s got to include getting kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and in a strict sense, for a yokozuna it should include getting double-digit wins. Double-digits seem pretty unlikely at this point. And given that his Week 2 schedule will be filled with bouts against ozeki and yokozuna, even kachi-koshi doesn’t seem like a lock at this stage. Kisenosato has to dig deep and find the power and concentration to bring in two more wins against top-notch opponents, otherwise we might be watching the final tournament of his great career.

Today, Kisenosato will face ozeki Tochinoshin, who has problems of his own. It’s only his second basho at sumo’s second-highest rank, but because of the injury he suffered in the middle of the July tournament, he’s kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] in this one, which means that he, too, MUST get kachi-koshi. He started off strong enough (though not at his best, by some stretch), but a headbutt on Day 4 seems to have really thrown him off his game. He’s currently 5–3, so he must find a way to get at least three wins in Week 2 when four of his bouts will be against his fellow ozeki and the yokozuna. 

Also in trouble, though of a less serious nature, is sekiwake Mitakeumi. He came into the Aki Basho hoping to do well enough to earn a promotion to ozeki when all was said and done. The pundits pretty much agree that means getting a minimum of double-digit wins INCLUDING at least one strong win over an ozeki or yokozuna (better if it was two). Mitakeumi started strong, but has stumbled at the end of Week 1. He’s now 6–2, which means that in Week 2 he needs four or five more victories in a schedule that will include bouts against three yokozuna and ozeki Takayasu. I don’t think he’ll have trouble getting his kachi-koshi, but he’s going to have to up his sumo significantly if he wants to get to double-digit wins and make a grab at that ozeki brass ring. 

In better news, by beating M2 Yutakayama yesterday, Hakuho notched his 800th win at the rank of yokozuna. He was already top of the list in that all-time category, but reaching such an auspicious number makes it worth celebrating again. The next significant number he’s aiming for is 1,000 career wins (another category he’s already at the top of), and he theoretically could get THAT this basho, too, if he finishes with a 14–1 or a perfect zensho-yusho [no loss tournament championship]. Otherwise, it seems almost assured that he’ll hit the 1,000 mark in November’s Kyushu Basho. Having said all that, there IS one milestone that Hakuho is surely chasing, and that is extending the number of consecutive years in which he’s won at least one yusho [tournament championship]. Already we’re in strange territory in that this is the first time since 2010 that Hakuho has failed to win one of the first four tournaments of the year, but if he doesn’t manage to win either the Aki or Kyushu basho, it will be the first time since 2005 that he failed to raise the Emperor’s Cup at all. In fact, he’s won multiple yusho in every year since 2007. 

Another day where the kyujo [absent due to injury] news is good—after missing five days due to knee injuries (yes, he hurt them BOTH), M11 Kyokutaisei is returning to action today. At 1–3–4, though, his next loss will make him make-koshi [majority of losses] and ensure a demotion of some sort. I expect he’s coming back in order to mitigate how far he’ll fall down the banzuke [ranking sheet], hoping to remain in the top division for November’s tournament.

Now let’s have a look at today’s top matches:

Sekiwake Mitakeumi (6–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (8–0)—Mitakeumi has to get his performance back on track, but he’s facing Hakuho. Of course, Mitakeumi actually has a decent lifetime record against Hakuho, having won twice in their eight meetings. I predict an interesting match, if nothing else. (12:35)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (8–0) vs. M3 Endo (1–7)—As long as Kakuryu stays on task and keeps doing his kind of forward-moving sumo, he should have no difficulty, particularly given how off rhythm Endo has been this basho. When Endo is fighting well, he often can maneuver around until Kakuryu takes the bait and starts to step backward and pull, which is the yokozuna’s biggest weakness. (15:35)
Yokuzuna Kisenosato (6–2) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (5–3)—Two big, powerful, usually dominant rikishi who are not at the top of their game at the moment. Both really need a win to get back on track . . . only one of them can get it. (16:35)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho Nakabi [Middle Day] (Day 8)

Here we are, nakabi [the middle day] of the Aki Basho and four rikishi are tied atop the leaderboard—yokozuna Kakuryu, yokozuna Hakuho, ozeki Takayasu, and M9 Hokutofuji. Immediately behind them are four rikishi with 6–1 records— yokozuna Kisenosato, ozeki Goeido, sekiwake Mitakeumi, and M13 Ryuden.

Interestingly, in my commentary during Week 1, I had very little to say about the rikishi who are our leaders. Kakuryu has very quietly been performing his winning style of sumo, which is to say that he’s been moving forward in all of his matches. So far, no one has pushed him hard enough to make him even think about slipping into his “step backward and pull” maneuver, which almost invariably leads to his losing the match at hand. As long as Kakuryu keeps the forward momentum, he’s going to remain hard to beat.

Hakuho, on the other hand, has had a mix of quick, dominant wins and weird, acrobatic matches where his skill and speed saved him from tricky situations. He’s so confident, and so experienced that there doesn’t seem to be any mess that he can’t get out of. Of course, we know from past tournaments that this isn’t 100% true . . . but it SEEMS that way. Given how unpredictably he’s been performing this basho, I naturally find it difficult to predict how he’ll do once he has to face his fellow yokozuna and the ozeki in Week 2, but one thing’s for sure—on any given day, it’s never a good idea to bet against Hakuho. What’s more, Hakuho now sits at 799 wins as a yokozuna, on the verge of setting another milestone (he already holds the record) in his incredible career.

Takayasu came into this tournament having suffered a week of lower back pain, so all the pundits were uncertain about how he’d hold up to the daily grind. So far, he’s been fine. Not particularly dominant, but there has been no sign of weakness or injury. I doubt he’s going to be able to keep his undefeated streak up long into Week 2—he’s just not been showing the kind of confidence and bull-headedness he needs to outmatch his fellow top-rankers. But I don’t think he’ll have any trouble getting his kachi-koshi and will almost certainly get double-digit wins. 

On the kyujo [absence due to injury] front, M2 Yutakayama is re-entering the basho today after having been absent the past three days due to an elbow strain. His reward for coming back? Having to face off against Hakuho.

Today’s top matches include:

M9 Hokutofuji (7–0) vs. M13 Ryuden (6–1)—Hokutofuji is still one of our co-leaders. Ryuden may be ranked near the bottom of the banzuke [ranking sheet], but he’s definitely better than that number would indicate, and he had a very strong Week 1. (4:25)
M4 Chiyonokuni (2–5) vs. M6 Kagayaki (2–5)—A match that’s going to have a lot of sumo commentators arguing. Controversial to say the least. (7:55)
Ozeki Goeido (6–1) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (5–2)—Our first ozeki clash! Goeido has looked strong since a slip up on Day 1. Meanwhile, Tochinoshin has seemed out of sorts all basho, but he’s kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] and MUST win at least 8 to save his ranking. Should be a vicious match! (11:55)
M3 Shodai (2–5) vs. ozeki Takayasu (7–0)—The next of our leaders, Takayasu, takes on Shodai, who has been fighting strong, but finding no luck. (12:50)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (7–0) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (2–5)—Another one of our leaders, Kakuryu, who has been calmly dispatching all comers so far. Today he’s goes up against the 500 lb. behemoth, Ichinojo, who has been typically slow and lumbering all tournament, but his mere size always makes him a dangerous opponent. (13:50)
M2 Yutakayama (0–5–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (7–0)—The final match of the day features the final co-leader, Hakuho. He’s facing Yutakayama, who is coming back from three days of kyujo because of an elbow strain. Hakuho needs only one more victory to notch 800 wins as a yokozuna. (16:05)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 7)

We’ve made it to the middle weekend of the Aki Basho, and the number of undefeated rikishi is down to four—yokozuna Kakuryu, yokozuna Hakuho, ozeki Takayasu, and M9 Hokutofuji. Both yokozuna Kisenosato and sekiwake Mitakeumi lost for the first time yesterday, but they’re still with a strong group (which includes ozeki Goeido) that trail the leaders by just a single loss.

Kisenosato had been living dangerously for the previous few days, showing his strength by pulling wins out of bad situations, and proving to fans that he still has the strength and skill of a yokozuna. But at the same time, those matches also showed that he’s still only running at about 75% of his former ability. The big question is how he’ll do over the course of Week 2, when he starts having to face the ozeki and his fellow yokozuna. Will he be able to notch a few wins? If not, he may yet have trouble securing a kachi-koshi [majority of wins], and if that happens there’s a very real chance that he will retire from sumo.

Mitakeumi, on the other hand, lost to Goeido who, after stumbling out of the gate on Day 1, has seemed to gather strength and confidence as Week 1 went along. Mitakeumi is on a push to get promoted to the rank of ozeki, and in order to do that he’ll need to notch at least 10 or 11 wins, and some of those are going to have to come against ozeki and yokozuna opponents. I’d have said that Goeido was going to be his most likely place to get a win, but ozeki Tochinoshin has been looking out of sorts AND had to get six stitches above his right eye after a head-bonking tachi-ai [initial charge] the other day.

Tochinoshin is also in a tough spot because he is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] and he MUST get kachi-koshi in order to avoid that fate. He’s lost two matches in Week 1, though he came back with a win yesterday against M1 Ikioi, bringing Tochinoshin to a 4–2 record today. He needs four more wins to seal the deal, but it seems like at least two of those are now going to have to come against fellow ozeki or yokozuna opponents. 

There’s a lot of good sumo today, but here are the marquee matches.

M9 Hokutofuji (6–0) vs. M11 Sadanoumi (4–2)—One of our co-leaders, Hokutofuji, who is ranked a little below his actual ability, so he really should have a relatively good shot at staying in the yusho hunt. If so, they’ll begin scheduling him tougher opponents around the middle of Week 2. (3:20)
M6 Onosho (2–4) vs. M4 Abi (4–2)—Two future stars, who have been having a little bit of trouble this basho. Onosho seems to be unable to get into the rhythm that made him so devastating in recent tournaments. Meanwhile Abi has been relying solely on thrusting attacks from his long arms, but his high-ranked opponents have figured out how to defend against that. (7:30)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (5–1) vs. komusubi Takakeisho (2–4)—After losing yesterday, Mitakeumi has to get back on the winning track quickly if he wants to keep his hopes of an ozeki promotion alive. Meanwhile, 2–4 isn’t a bad record for a komusubi (who has had to face mostly yokozuna and ozeki in Week 1), and Takakeisho has looked strong and aggressive in all of his matches so far. (8:50)
Sekiwake Ichinojo (2–4) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (4–2)—A pairing that fans of power sumo ALWAYS look forward to. Tochinoshin needs to get another couple of wins under his belt before he starts facing the top rankers. Meanwhile, Ichinojo needs to remember what winning sumo feels like. (10:40)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (5–1) vs. M4 Chiyonokuni (2–4)—Kisenosato wants to bounce back from his first loss yesterday and get back in a winning way. It’s important to him that he get his kachi-koshi quickly and LOOK like a yokozuna should look. Making matters even more challenging for him, about two minutes before this match, a previous combatant fell off the dohyo and onto Kisenosato’s right ankle. (13:15)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 6)

It’s Day 6, one-third of the way through the Aki Basho, and there still are so many undefeated and one-loss rikishi to say that a real “leaderboard” has formed yet. That’s incredibly competitive sumo, and a super exciting tournament! The 5–0 rikishi include all the yokozuna, one ozeki, and one sekiwake.

The big name match of the day yesterday was definitely sekiwake Mitakeumi against ozeki Tochinoshin. Mitakeumi came in with a perfect 4–0 record, and Tochinoshin was coming in at 3–1 after suffering his first loss on Day 4. Besides the loss, Tochinoshin also got six stitches above his right eye from that match, which only added to the pressure he’s under to get his kachi-koshi quickly and eliminate his kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] status. For some reason, though, Tochinoshin led with his right shoulder at the tachi-ai [initial charge] and was pushed back at the start. Mitakeumi looked strong, confident, and laser-focused on his goal and won with very little fuss.

The question for me is whether Tochinoshin’s stitches are going to give him trouble at EVERY tachi-ai . . . and if they are, can he manage to get the five more wins he needs to get kachi-koshi? His Week 2 is going to be filled with matches against yokozuna and fellow-ozeki, so he’d better get back on track quickly if he wants to keep his spot at sumo’s second-highest rank.

The weirdest match of the day yesterday was the day’s finale—yokozuna Hakuho against komusubi Takakeisho. Komusubi is the toughest rank on the banzuke [ranking sheet] because you have to start every tournament fighting the yokozuna and ozeki, as Takakeisho’s 1–3 record proved. But the young rikishi has been energetic and given his best against all of his opponents so far, and he brought that same spirit to the Hakuho match. In fact, he managed to get the upper hand against the yokozuna. But Hakuho is still the greatest rikishi of his generation, probably all-time, and his speed and reflexes are still the best in the game. Despite being off balance and with his back to his opponent, Hakuho was able to recover and move far enough out of reach that Takakeisho found himself lunging at open air, only managing to grab at Hakuho’s retreating left calf. This let the yokozuna make an “olé” spin and send the komusubi face down onto the clay. Oh, and of course all this happened over the course of about six seconds. Like I said, weirdest match of the day . . . but still absolute proof of Hakuho’s near-absolute dominance.

I’m sure we won’t see anything like that today, but here are the matches of the day.

M1 Kaisei (2–3) vs. ozeki Takayasu (5–0)—Despite coming into the basho with recurring lower back pain, Takayasu has managed to hang tough each and every day. Kaisei, on the other hand, has brought a lot of his A-game here in Week 1, but has had the bad luck of facing a bunch of top ranked opponents (that’s what your Week 1 is like when you’re at M1). (10:15)
Ozeki Goeido (4–1) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (5–0)—Talk about a marquee match! Two past yusho [tournament championship] winners. An ozeki who is fighting to stay in the yusho race against a sekiwake who is pushing for a promotion to sumo’s second-highest rank. It’s hard to believe they didn’t save this pairing for over the coming weekend! (11:05)
M1 Ikioi (0–5) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (3–2)—Tochinoshin has dropped two matches in a row, and really needs to get back on track NOW if he wants to save his ozeki rank. He’s got a lucky pairing today as Ikioi is having a lackluster basho, and is unlikely to do anything particularly tricky. However, he is a tenacious rikishi, and Tochinoshin has looked a little off his game this whole tournament. (12:05)
M3 Shodai (2–3) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (5–0)—Like yesterday’s Hakuho bout, all I’m going to say is that this is a very surprising match. (13:00)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (5–0) vs. M2 Chiyotairyu (0–5)—Kisenosato is still undefeated, but of all the yokozuna, he’s the one who’s danced closest to the verge of defeat day after day. It would be good for him to just get a straightforward win, and luckily his opponent today has been having a really disappointing basho so far. (15:35)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 5)

Day 5 of the Aki Basho dawns to a sight that the sumo world hasn’t seen for twenty-nine years! Back in March 1989, in Osaka at the Haru Basho, was the last time that three yokozuna reached Day 5 of a tournament and ALL still had unbeaten records. That’s 12–0 between them. In that tournament, the three yokozuna in question (Chiyonofuji, Kitanoumi, and Onokuni) all kept their perfect records through Day 11, an incredible 33–0 for the grand champions. Eventually, the great Chiyonofuji went on to take that yusho [tournament championship] (his 27th) with a 14–1 record.

Of course, here in the present Aki Basho, we ALSO have ozeki Takayasu and sekiwake Mitakeumi still with unblemished records. And between them, yokozuna and ozeki currently have a 22–2 win/loss advantage. And not all of those wins have been what you’d call “dominant.” Yesterday, yokozuna Kisenosato got pushed to the very edge by M1 Kaisei, and ozeki Tochinoshin needed a two attempts to bring down komusubi Tamawashi. But all of that is part and parcel of what’s making this the most exciting basho in a very long time. 

Another slice of history that’s taking place in this tournament is the return to the Makuuchi Division of M13 Takanoiwa. He has never been a particularly dominant rikishi (his highest rank was M2 in March 2017), so you’re to be forgiven if you don’t remember that name, but over the last year he’s been key in developments at the top of the sumo world.

Takanoiwa was the rikishi who was attacked by then-yokozuna Harumafuji last October—an incident that ended up with Harumafuji’s forced retirement and expulsion from sumo. It’s still not completely clear what happened, whether Takanoiwa was hit with a glass ashtray or a TV remote control, but whatever the details, he was kyujo [absent due to injury] for the next two tournaments and dropped all the way down the banzuke [ranking sheet] to J12 in the Juryo Division. But Takanoiwa perservered, winning the Juryo yusho in July, and is now back in the top division and is 2–2 so far this basho.

We have a second kyujo [absence due to injury]. M2 Yutakayama is out with an elbow strain that he apparently suffered in his Day 3 fight against Kisenosato. On a side note, after his hard tumble off the dohyo yesterday, I was expecting to see M10 Aoiyama take at least a day off, but so far he’s planning to fight through the pain.

Today’s top matches include:

M9 Hokutofuji (4–0) vs. M8 Kotoshogiku (3–1)—Two rikishi who are ranked a little bit lower than their skill level and who both are giving strong performances so far this basho. They both want to get back toward the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet], but only one can take a step in that direction today. (4:50)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (4–0) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (3–1)—Here’s another marquee match early in the tournament. Mitakeumi won the previous yusho [tournament championship] is undefeated so far in this basho, and has the possibility of a promotion to ozeki if he can get 10 or 11 wins overall. Tochinoshin is in his second basho ranked as an ozeki, he lost his match yesterday, and he is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] so he must get kachi-koshi, which requires a strong Week 1. On paper, this should be the best match of the day.  (10:15)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (4–0) vs. M3 Shodai (2–2)—Kisenosato is unbeaten, but he’s had to work very hard to get his last two wins. He’s definitely showing a yokozuna’s determination, but the only question is for how many days he can keep this up. (12:50)
Komusubi Takakeisho (1–3) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (4–0)—All I’m going to say is that this was definitely the weirdest match of the day. (14:05)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 4)

Things are looking pretty good at the Aki Basho. Here we are on Day 4 and all three yokozuna are still undefeated. Granted that’s really how it SHOULD be, but over the past year or two this kind of steady performance at the top of the banzuke has been in short supply. As if to prove that point, kadoban [threatened with demotion] ozeki Tochinoshin got a little over anxious yesterday and wound up giving up a sloppy loss to komusubi Takakeisho, meaning that only one of the three ozeki—Takayasu—still has a perfect record.

Of course, yokozuna Kisenosato only barely pulled out a win in his match yesterday against M2 Yutakayama. He needed a nifty maneuver at the tawara [straw bales that mark the ring’s edge] AND a mono-ii [judges conference] to get win number three . . . but get it he did. 

Speaking of mono-ii, there sure were A LOT of them yesterday! This is a little weird because there were actually very FEW of them during the whole of July’s Nagoya Basho (I think the first one came on Day 8 or something like that). There were four or five of them yesterday alone.

Ozeki Goeido has bounced back strong from his Day 1 loss, and really looked the most dominant of all the top-rankers in yesterday’s bouts. Of course, given his habits, that just might presage a big slip-up today. You never can tell with Goeido. Just when you think he’s firmly going one direction of the other, he’ll have a mental slip and suddenly turn things around (for good AND ill). 

We have our first kyujo [absence due to injury] of the basho. M11 Kyokutaisei has withdrawn after hurting his knees so badly yesterday that he wasn’t able to squat to accept his winning envelopes. His opponent today was supposed to be Ryuden, who could use a freebie to get himself back on track.

Now, let’s have a look at today’s top matches.

M9 Hokutofuji (3–0) vs. M10 Aoiyama (0–3)—Hokutofuji is picking up where he left off in July, looking strong and focused so far this basho. On the other hand, something isn’t clicking for Aoiyama—maybe his legs are still bothering him, maybe it’s something psychological, but he just hasn’t seemed ready in his first three matches. (3:55)
M7 Shohozan (2–1) vs. M8 Kotoshogiku (3–0)—Kotoshogiku has been looking rejuvenated this basho, but I think that’s mainly based on the quality of his opponents rather than any revival in the former-ozeki’s sumo. Today he faces Shohozan, who is a rough and tumble scrapper who doesn’t give anyone an easy time. (5:25)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (3–0) vs. sekiwake Ichinoj0 (1–2)—Another one of the interesting big-name match-ups coming earlier in the basho than usual thanks to the large number of yokozuna and ozeki in competition. Ordinarily, the two sekiwake wouldn’t face each other until sometime in Week 2. Mitakeumi is still on track to make a run at an ozeki promotion (he needs 10 or 11 wins to get there), but he’s got a BIG opponent today. On the other hand, with the exception of an impressive performance on Day 1, Ichinojo has looked like his old. lumbering, clueless self for most of this tournament. (9:25)
Komusubi Tamawashi (0–3) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (2–1)—Tochinoshin lost his first match of the basho yesterday, but since he’s kadoban, he’s got to get himself back on track quickly. For his part, Tamawashi lost a close match yesterday to Mitakeumi, and he’s getting a little desperate to notch a win somewhere here in Week 1. (10:05)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (3–0) vs. M1 Kaisei (1–2)—Kisenosato gets a big challenge today in the form of a big opponent—Brazilian Kaisei. For his part, Kaisei has been bringing his A-game fairly regularly, so this could be a very interesting bout. (13:15)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 3)

It’s Day 3 of the Aki Basho, and it’s looking like it’s going to be a real classic of a tournament. All the yokozuna and ozeki won yesterday, meaning that Goeido is the only one whose record isn’t perfect (after his Day 1 loss to M1 Kaisei). Also as yet unblemished is the winner of the previous tournament, sekiwake Mitakeumi. 

We had an unusual pairing yesterday, when ozeki Takayasu was matched against sekiwake Ichinojo. Usually, the sekiwake don’t have to “fight up” until Week 2 in order to help ensure that there are marquee matches for all the top-rankers in the tournament’s final days. But with a combined six yokozuna and ozeki fighting this basho, that’s not looking to be a problem. So we may have some big-name bouts cropping up even in this early stage of the tournament. 

Yokozuna Kisenosato really gave us a good taste of how he’s feeling in his win over komusubi Takakeisho yesterday. He was pushed to the edge of the ring by his young opponent, and then reversed all the way to the opposite ring, holding Takakeisho off with one arm and one foot on the tawara [straw bales that make up the ring’s edge]. But he was able to dig deep, gather his strength, and muscle his opponent over and to the clay for an impressive win. He really did look like the Kisenosato of old. 

The yokozuna’s stablemate, ozeki Takayasu, also gave a good accounting of himself and put aside rumors that his bad back was going to hamper him. As I mentioned above, he faced sekiwake Ichinojo (who now weighs in at 227 kg/500 lb) and was able to not only hold him off, but run him off the dohyo. So far, Takayasu’s back seems to be in good shape.

Looking further down the banzuke, someone to keep an eye on this basho is former-ozeki Kotoshogiku, who after having a disappointing showing in July is currently ranked at M8. It’s been clear for a while that Kotoshogiku has lost a step or two (or three) since his ozeki days, but the fact is that he still has what it takes to be competitive at the top of the banzuke. So it only goes to reason that he should be able to dominate against mid-level competitors, and that’s just how things have gone on Days 1 and 2. I’d say there’s a very good chance that Kotoshogiku will have a VERY good tournament, and may even be in the yusho hunt all the way until the final weekend. 

On the other hand, M6 Onosho, who should also be dominating at his relatively low ranking, has so far been struggling. He’s 0–2 going into today, and just looks listless, despite having been one of the shining stars during the summer jungyo [exhibition tour]. Did he injure himself? Has he come down with a cold? No one is saying anything about it yet . . . but it really is very strange.

Enough of my rambling, though . . . let’s look at today’s matches.

M10 Aoiyama (0–2) vs. M11 Sadanoumi (1–1)—A tough bout between two rikishi who are off to a slow start. Aoiyama still hasn’t been able to recapture the magic that let him be runner-up in this year’s January tournament. (3:45)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (2–0) vs. komusubi Tamawashi (0–2)—Mitakeumi really needs to run the table here in Week 1 if he has any real hope of getting a promotion to ozeki. That task gets harder when he has to face opponents like Tamawashi, but no on ever said sumo was easy. (10:20)
Komusubi Takakeisho (0–2) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (2–0)—Tochinoshin has been looking pretty solid so far. He’s kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] so his first goal is to get eight quick wins and secure his kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. Takakeisho has had a rough first two days having to face a pair of yokozuna, but that’s usually how things go when you’re a komusubi. He’s still a very genki and dangerous opponent. (13:05)
M1 Kaisei (1–1) vs. Yokozuna Hakuho—Kaisei A showed up on Monday when he beat Goeido, but yesterday it was clearly Kaisei B who got spun around by Kakuryu yesterday . . . which one will show up to face Hakuho? And does it really matter? (14:05)
Yokuzuna Kisenosato (2–0) vs. M2 Yutakayama (0–2)—Kisenosato has been winning and looking reasonably healthy all around. But he hasn’t been dominant. In fact, if he wasn’t healthy, he’d probably have lost one or both of his first matches. This is his first time ever facing Yutakayama. Let’s see if he can put the upstart in his place. (15:35)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 2)

The Aki Basho is underway, and we started off with a really solid Day 1. There were lots of exciting matches, and all of the top rikishi won . . . well  . . . all except ozeki Goeido, who further cemented his reputation of being better in practice than he is in the tournaments. 

Goeido was on fire this summer, dominating on the jungyo [exhibition tour] and in the warm-up training over the past few weeks. No one could touch him, it seemed. But yesterday, M1 Kaisei seemed to have no trouble touching Goeido and then pushing him rather unspectacularly to the edge and out of the ring. This certainly doesn’t count Goeido out, by any means, but it does seem to indicate that his head isn’t right, and that he’s more likely to play the role of spoiler than challenger for the title. The fact is, he’s got real game and can beat ANY rikishi on a given day. The problem is that he is unfocused and can lose to just about any rikishi on a given day.

Speaking of ozeki, Tochinoshin is now in his second tournament at sumo’s second-highest rank, and thanks to the foot injury he suffered in the middle of July’s Nagoya Basho, he’s already kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion]. He missed most training and competition over the summer, letting his wounds heal, but that means he’s coming into the Aki Basho without having had much chance to shake off the rust. Word is that he’s healthy, but not as strong as usual. You couldn’t prove that by his Day 1 performance, though, where he jumped off quickly at the tachi-ai [opening charge] and easily lifted M2 Chiyotairyu off his feet and out of the ring. Tochinoshin must get kachi-koshi [majority of wins] to keep his rank, but I think he’s looking strong enough that he’ll do much more than that and be one of the names in the yusho [tournament championship] hunt.

The third ozeki, Takayasu, has been struggling with back pain the last couple of weeks. Some days he gets up and is able to do sumo at about 75% or better, and some days he gets up and can barely move. Let’s hope that he stays healthy and gets through the whole basho without further straining his back . . . but it’s probably not likely for him to be atop the leaderboard past the middle weekend.

Last tournament’s winner, sekiwake Mitakeumi, is back and looking as strong as usual. The Kyokai [sumo association] has said that if he puts in a strong enough performance at the Aki Basho (probably 10 or 11 wins with at least one or two wins over yokozuna or ozeki opponents) he will be promoted to ozeki. In July he took advantage of the fact that most of the top rankers were out of action, but that’s not the case now. If he wants to rise to sumo’s second-highest rank, he’ll have to do even BETTER than he did in Nagoya.

But enough of my pontificating. Let’s look at some of today’s highlight matches.

Sekiwake Mitakeumi (1–0) vs. M2 Chiyotairyu (0–1)—Mitakeumi got off to a good start yesterday. If he wants a chance at his ozeki promotion, he pretty much has to run the table during Week 1, because his Week 2 is going to be filled with ozeki and yokozuna opponents. (10:45)
M2 Yutakayama (0–1) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (1–0)—Tochinoshin came out strong on Day 1. He needs seven more wins to clear his kadoban status. (12:55)
Sekiwake Ichinojo (1–0) vs. ozeki Takayasu (1–0)—It’s a little weird to pair an ozeki and a sekiwake this early in the tournament, but with a total of six ozeki and yokozuna fighting, I guess we’ll probably see some unusual pairings here and there. Ichinojo looked terrific against M1 Endo yesterday—he showed that glimmer of real skill he had back in May, but that evaporated almost entirely in July. Is he back for real? But both he and Takayasu are suffering from bad backs, so they each are on a day-to-day watch for disabling pain. (13:35)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (1–0) vs. komusubi Takakeisho (0–1)—Kisenosato won his first match since January pretty easily, but his opponent (M1 Ikioi) was a pretty straight ahead fighter. Today he faces a young sparkplug of a rikishi in Takakeisho, so we’ll get a better idea of what the yokozuna has in his tank. (15:00).

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 1)

The long, hot, summer dry spell is over . . . it’s time for the Aki Basho [Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament]! For the next fifteen days, the big men will be competing in the big dohyo [ring] in the home of sumo—Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan! And even before a single match has been fought, it’s already a momentous tournament. 

As you know if you’ve been following my posts during recent tournaments, many of the top rikishi have been suffering through long and recurring injuries. It’s been a long time since we started a basho with all the top names in competition, but that’s what we’ve got here. For the first time since the Nagoya Basho in July 2017, ALL of the Makuuchi Division rikishi will be active today, and hopefully for the whole two weeks of the tournament. 

The man everyone is wondering about most is yokozuna Kisenosato, who has not fought a complete tournament since March 2017, and hasn’t competed at all since January of this year (when he dropped out after Day 4). He’s been healing up from the massive shoulder/chest muscle injury he suffered earning and securing his yokozuna promotion, and all of Japan has been holding its collective breath hoping that he can get healthy enough to be competitive again. Kisenosato is the first Japanese-born yokozuna since 2003, and although he was clearly the second-best rikishi over the previous five years, competing as an ozeki the whole time, the fans want to see him excel at sumo’s highest rank, too. 

I had predicted that Kisenosato would NOT join the Aki Basho, if only because he still seems only about 75% healthy, and the pressure on his performance is so high. He has publicly announced that if he does not perform satisfactorily in his return basho, he will retire. And, even if he didn’t do that of his own volition, the Kyokai [sumo association] will soon begin apply pressure on him to resign if he can’t properly perform the duties of a yokozuna. (They have been extremely forgiving of his absences because of his history and popularity, but their patience is beginning to wear thin.) So, the question remains—Does Kisenosato have what it takes to perform like a yokozuna for fifteen days in a row?

Second on the watch list is yokozuna Hakuho who is recovering from what are now chronic toe and ankle problems. In the past year, he has only stayed in for the full course of two, he sat out two in their entirety, and only lasted five days apiece in the remaining two. For the first time since 2005, he has failed to win at least one of the first three basho of the year. But perhaps most telling of all, it is clear that he’s slowing down . . . just a little, but it’s enough, particularly given that the Kyokai has reprimanded him for his tactics to make up for that loss of speed. Namely, Hakuho had begin to use more “trick moves” and “bullying sumo” rather than the pure, blazing fast, super clean sumo that made him the greatest of all time. 

Again, I thought that Hakuho was going to take another tournament off. His feet were clearly still bothering him during the summer jungyo [exhibition tour], and he has nothing to prove. But he wants to still be competing and still be on top when the Summer Olympics come to Tokyo in 2020, so he wants to grab at least one yusho [tournament championship] this year, and notch his 800th win as a yokozuna (currently 792), and 1,000th win in the Makuuchi Division (currently 986). He already holds the record for most career wins and most championships, so he’s left to pick off records with various caveats and restrictions. I HOPE that he’s strong enough to be in the thick of the yusho hunt this time. Hakuho as an also-ran is a very sad thing to me.

There’s still LOTS of other rikishi to talk about, but I’ll get to them over the next few days. Meanwhile, on to Day 1 action!

M15 Chiyoshoma vs. M15 Yoshikaze—An amazing finish with a really weird call. If this is a sample of what the lower-ranked matches are going to be like, this is going to be an incredible basho! (1:00)
M13 Ryudan vs. M13 Takanoiwa—Another closely fought match, but most notable because it is Takanoiwa’s return to the top division after having been the victim in the scandal that caused former yokozuna Harumafuji to retire in disgrace.(2:15)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi vs. M3 Shodai—It’s worth checking in with the last basho’s winner, Mitakeumi. If he can manage to get ten or more wins this basho, he’ll probably be promoted to ozeki. (10:05)
M2 Chiyotairyu vs. ozeki Tochinoshin—Tochinoshin is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] in this, only his second tournament at sumo’s highest rank. He hurt his foot in the Nagoya Basho and must get at least 8 wins to secure his position. (11:20)
Ozeki Goeido vs. M1 Kaisei—Goeido looked completely dominant during the pre-tournament training sessions. Two years ago, he came out on fire and won the Aki Basho with a perfect 15–0 record. Can he do it again, or has he left his best game on the practice dohyo? (12:25)
Yokozuna Kisenosato vs. M1 Ikioi—This is Kisenosato’s first match since January. No one is expecting him to contend for the yusho, but he needs to perform like a yokozuna. (13:05)
Komusubi Tamawashi vs yokozuna Hakuho—Hakuho is trying to make a strong return and get back to being a contender for the yusho. (13:55)
Yokozuna Kakuryu vs. komusubi Takakeisho—Kakuryu has been the most steady of the three yokozuna recently, if only because he’s stayed healthy. He’s shown that he’s better that the rest of the field, but now he’ll have to show that he’s better than his fellow yokozuna, too. (14:40)